Horror & Dark Fantasy



The H Word


The H Word: W Is for Witch

Growing up, I never remember fearing witches. Instead, I feared the men who burned them. As a strange, bullied child who always took magic for granted, I tacitly assumed if witch-hunts ever started again, I wouldn’t be safe. Somebody would quickly recognize me as “wrong” and tie me to the nearest pyre. Witch hunts were the stuff real nightmares were made of. Men would yank you from your bed in the night and lock you up in a dark cell. Your chance of a fair trial was non-existent. And they did this ostensibly for the good of your neighbors and your family.


The H Word: Someone Changed the Bones in Our Homes

I may be agnostic now, but I was raised in the Catholic Church. A childhood that was haunted by the smell of burnt candle wax and images of torture as objects of reverie. It was here that I was told about the most terrifying thing my young child mind would ever experience: what the church called transubstantiation. This idea that something can appear the same and be changed on the spiritual level. That this piece of wafer was actually parts of a corpse. That this glass of wine was really blood. An idea that terrified me to the bone.


The H Word: Food for Thought

I haven’t eaten meat since I was eleven. I was the only vegetarian in my school, in a little farming town where the largest employer was the local slaughterhouse. It wasn’t an easy decision to swim against that overwhelming social current, but it’s one from which I have never since retreated. Looking back, I see a willful child stretching for individuality and control over her life, but I think that even then I understood what I do now: that on a fundamental level, what we choose to eat defines us.


The H Word: What Comes at the End

I am seven and my fingers are streaked with dark earth. With my right hand, I am using a spoon to cut an earthworm into smaller and smaller bits and wondering what it would feel like to be taken apart. I am in our tiny backyard, behind the tinier rental house that could get away with not being called a house at all, and I am digging a hole with a spoon from our silverware drawer. It is one of four spoons, and my mother has given it to me. There are no toy spades, no toy buckets. We are poor, and so I dig my hole with a spoon and pluck worms from their hiding places.


The H Word: Ghosts in a Void

Why ghosts? My primary interest as a writer is to ask and keep asking what it means to be human in a world indifferent to humanity. To my mind, a ghost, proceeding as it does immediately and directly from the individual after death, expresses many of our most intimate concerns—fear of mortality, loss of identity, loss of agency—while retaining at least a vague semblance of what was once physically, entirely human. A ghost is not a bizarre transformation initiated by an outside force. It may be seen, instead, as a last attempt at holding onto life and selfhood.


The H Word: I Need My Pain

Most often, we choose to invest ourselves in narratives because we feel a kinship with their protagonists, because we can recognize some element of our own experience in theirs . . . but the odd thing about people (or one odd thing, at any rate; one amongst many) is how few of us have any literal sympathy for each other’s joys, or victories, or pleasures. Happiness is discounted, even devalued; what’s that line about how all happy families are alike, while all unhappy families are unhappy in different—and far more interesting—ways?


The H Word: Kiss the Goat

After the serpent, the goat is widely considered the most evil animal in mythology, literature, film, and music. From biblical verse to Baphomet, Black Phillip and beyond, the cloven-hoofed mammal has long been maligned. But the majority of these allusions are surface-level references to a beast that is broadly misunderstood. Having grown up on a farm in rural Oregon, goats have long been a part of my life, as much a part of the environment as the forested hills, dark rainclouds, mold, moss, and fungus.


The H Word: He Himself Was Not Corrupt

I write horror novels. I’m a gay man. Many of my characters are also gay men. As such, I have the privilege of being known as an author of “Gay Horror,” though I don’t have a clue what that means. I’ve been asked. My answer is never particularly good, because the suggestion is that the horror I’m writing is just for LGBTQ readers, or that the horrors I’m describing are derived from the gay experience. Neither of which is true. The easiest way to cut through this nonsense is to invoke the name of Clive Barker. He writes horror novels. He’s a gay man. Sometimes he writes about bad things happening to gay men.


The H Word: Mining Dark Latino Folklore

Growing up Mexican-American and a fan of speculative fiction meant bouncing back and forth between two worlds, but I was used to that crisscrossing of borders, one of the defining and unifying elements of the Latino experience. In our South Texas home, scant miles from Mexico, I could listen to my grandmother Marie Garza recount the tale of the mano pachona—a disembodied demon claw that hunts children down—and then turn to my father’s yellowed copies of pulp magazines to read Lovecraft or to my own collection of Swamp Thing, Weird Mystery Tales, and other dark comics.


The H Word: Powerful Visions of Suffering and Inhumanity

In the run up to the 2016 World Fantasy Convention, an interesting conversation took place online. 2016 marked one hundred years since the birth of Shirley Jackson, author of “The Lottery,” The Haunting of Hill House, and other stories and novels. The convention seemed an appropriate venue at which to celebrate her life and work. Despite this, when the preliminary schedule for the convention was released, it included only one panel on Jackson. In contrast, some eight or nine panels addressed the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle.